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Was Slavery Truly Necessary?
The Crackpot Dropout Author is Put to the Question by a Schoolteacher
This morning I received an e-mail from a reader, Leah, a schoolteacher. I find it interesting how you young people attach your pictures to your e-mail account. And, can unequivocally state, that if my school teachers had looked like this chick, I would not have dropped out—hell, I’d probably still be in school.
“So, a question to you as a learned historian: was slavery truly a necessary economic step in the development of nations? And more specifically, would the US be able to develop and catch up to its European rivals without that giant free labor force working the plantations? Feel free to reference an existing work of yours or someone else that addresses the issue.”
First, let me focus that question a bit more…
“So, a question to you as a LEARNED HISTORIAN, and extraterrestrial anthropological authority: was slavery truly a necessary economic step in the development of nations? And more specifically, would the US be able to develop and catch up to its European rivals without that giant free labor force working the plantations? Feel free to reference an existing work of yours or someone else that addresses the issue.”
Now, that is better.
Was Slavery a Necessary Nation-building Step?
Our reader is referring to chattel slavery, which is the large scale use of humans as working livestock. This practice was at its greatest extent in the ancient world between 300 B.C. and A.D. 250. All I have to do to prove it was not necessary is to point to a functional, self sufficient nation [an amalgamation of tribes ruled by law] that was not dependent on chattel slavery. I need go no farther than the Iroquois Nation, a military power respected by American colonists for 200 years. Indeed, it is unlikely New England could have been settled by the whites without the aid of the Iroquois in wiping out the rival Algonquin tribes. Like many aborigine people of North America they did practice limited household slavery, sometimes ending in adoption. The ‘longhouse people’ were not, however, saints. I have credited them with four genocides, although some casino owner will surely disagree.
Slavery was a necessary monument building step. And historians, busy shining seat covers as they generally are, tend to mark monumental [beyond useful] architecture as a sure sign of civilization. In so doing they have tacitly agreed that civilization and slavery are mutually dependent states. In our own postmodern sense, civilization is seen as a condition of ease, luxury and plenty. Before the development of technologies sufficient to replace human labor such a sedentary notion of civilization could only be enjoyed by the few at the expense of the enslaved many.
So, the question is, if the Europeans had not come, would the Iroquois advance from nation to civilization have been made on the backs of Algonquin slaves? If we use the Aztecs, Maya and Incas as models, and consider the Cherokee ownership of black and mixed-race slaves, we will have to answer yes.
I take enough heat for my ambiguity in fiction, so let me stake out a firm opinion. My best answer is that ‘nation building’ does not require large scale slavery, but that low tech civilizations with monumental architecture and predatory militaries do.
The Roots of Slavery
Slavery begins with mercy, not killing the enemy, or his woman, or his child. Subsistence level societies like the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands typically tortured male captives to death, raped and killed the females, and grabbed the children by the feet and smashed their brains out on a tree. If, however, they needed to replace losses, they would enslave the captive and eventually adopt them. To a large degree slavery is something societies without a food surplus could not afford.
Homo Hunterus eats you.
Homo Homocidus kills you.
Homo Surplusss enslaves you.
Homo Industrious hires you, then fires you and lets the corrections system enslave you.
The Faces of Slavery
To take one snapshot of the levels of servitude in the ancient world in the time of the Iliad—you know, Brad Pitt stabbing Eric Bana—I turn to The World of Odysseus by some Brit with an initial for a first name, published by The Folio Society in 2002.
A demioergoi was a servant, who had a contract with his owner, like an apprentice with no human rights.
A dmos was named after the word for house [think domicile], and was owned by a family; the red-headed stepchild of the Iron Age without Charles Dickens to make us weep over his plight.
Lowest of all was the thes, an unattached homeless worker, who was considered wretched by the dmos, who would not change places with his starving ass for all the wine in Ithaca
Later on, in the classical period, the dmos is no longer present, at least not in significant numbers. He has now been replaced by the doulos, who is named after a unit of labor, not the household. As Greek society scaled up chattel slavery was now a reality. Towns emptied as plantations swelled.
The less centralized societies that rose after the fall of Rome could not feed, house, or control armies of slaves. What the Romans did to keep these slaves in line boggles the mind. Feudal lords bound these former slaves to a parcel of land; they and their descendents being organic work units attached to this chunk of dirt for eternity, whoever might come to own it.
Limited forms of slavery included bonding and indenture and gladiatorial servitude, which were 90+% lethal with terms from 3 to 31 years. Technically, most modern soldiers since 1700 have been slaves, un-free men whose officers are armed and authorized to kill them if they decline to kill or attempt to gain their freedom. We, being materialists, think that they are free because they are paid. I remind you, that the gladiators were paid, as were many chattel slaves such as Frederick Douglas and Solomon Northup.
The Effects of Chattel Slavery
Chattel slavery is 100% lethal—nobody gets out alive. This type of slavery is heavily dependent on extreme sociopathic brutality. Every chattel slave was beaten often. Every chattel slave saw a friend or family member executed or beaten to death. The rest were all worked or starved to death. For the past 15 years I have been studying slavery, and I have come up with a worst 10 types of chattel slavery:
1. Roman mine slave [You are not seeing daylight again.]
2. Amerindian mine slave under the conquistadors [What’s that guy with the lice in his face hair screaming about—boom!]
3. Roman agricultural slave [All 95 pounds of you.]
4. Islamic eunuch, with 9 of 10 dying immediately from the initial castration—yes that is a better draw of the lots than being one of the three doomed bastards above!
5. Haitian agricultural slave [Broken on the wheel is nastier than it sounds.]
6. Irish Barbados agricultural slave [Death by sunburn.]
7. African American agricultural slave [Yes the guy that owns you is drunk all of the time and his wife is mean as cat shit because she knows he’s screwing your mother, and her sister, and your sister, and...]
8. Italian galley slave [ Ben Hur, circa 1500, and you’re not Chuck Heston so you don’t have any teeth to gnaw on that brick they call a biscuit.]
9. Islamic sex slave [They drown your baby in a bucket and then rape you again.]
10. White American agricultural slave [Nobody gives a shit about you boy.]
In the ancient world slavery stifled technology. Archimedes could invent a steam engine every week, but why bother building one when you have 1,000 naked dudes to drag your stuff around? Chattel slavery corrupted the entire civilization wherever it was instituted. Much of history is in fact, the abused mutant child of such savage economies.
Slavery in America
The conquistadors settled the Americas trying to get around the Arab world and hit them in the ass. They aped the Arabs in their methods of enslavement. Unfortunately, 19 out of 20 million Amerindians died in slavery and needed to be replaced. The Africans brought across the Atlantic were a mere trickle compared to those marched across the Sahara as sex slaves to have their penis and testicles chopped off and babies drowned. The vast majority of American slaves went to hell holes like Haiti. Note that many Islamic names indicate that the person so-named is the ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of an aspect of God. The Spaniards who conquered the new world were the sons and grandsons of the men who drove the Muslims from Spain. They seemed to have adopted the Islamic notion of servitude with alarming avarice and unparalleled brutality. The English slavery model seemed to harken right back to ancient Rome.
Roughly a few million went to North America [There is a lot of dispute here. In any case, European slaves abducted and mutilated for the Arab sex trade were roughly equal to those shipped to North America during the 17th and 18th Centuries.] Also, most female slaves in North America were also sex slaves, and thanks to the outlawing of a mixed race caste, were used as slave breeders by the very men who were abusing them as sex objects, men who gladly enslaved, sold, and killed their own children. Thanks largely to this Southern American Porn Confederacy slave numbers stayed stable and even grew without the massive additional imports required to keep the Caribbean work forces stable. The Brazilians were also race-mixing sex fiends that bred a huge mixed race population, resulting in the best built hip-hop honeys on the rap scene—okay it’s not the pyramids, but ought to count for something.
The Superiority of Wage Slavery
After the rich English kicked their serfs and peasants off the land and shipped their children into old Roman style slavery in America, one of these gouty fellows invented the steam engine. Now little English children could be employed as factory slaves, thousands every year fed into the meat-ripping bone-crushing maws of industrial weaving machines. The smart money in America, who were developing their own banking and business models on the European plan, now wanted little Chinese people for the same hideous exploitation. Why own someone when you incur the expense of housing, feeding and guarding them? Find some poor foreign bastard who is small enough to live on scarps and tough enough to live in the open, and put him to work for pennies.
Did the U.S. Need Agricultural Slavery to Compete with Europe?
This is the easy question.
As stated above in the brief on chattel slavery, it is not free, and ultimately stifles economic development beyond anything the Romans or Gauls had in antiquity. The American system began as English slavery, with a brief period in which blacks were imported to hunt escaped white salves. Then the whites were permitted to run off, but could not compete as wage laborers against large plantation gangs, so were employed as slave catchers. It was a cruel system in which the government played off the poor against the slaves for the enrichment of the elite.
The American Civil War was fought to update the American economy to European wage-slavery standards, not to free the slaves, who nobody but Nathan Bedford Forest and a couple of others wanted as a free mobile wage-earning work force. The plan was to strangle the black population, and it worked, with Americans of Africa descent still only 10% of the population. Planned Parenthood was developed to prevent blacks from reproducing in America, and even Lincoln, the ‘great emancipator’, wanted to ship all of the blacks back to Africa.
America did not become a world class power until a full generation after the end of chattel slavery. A nation cannot build the industry capable of arming and grinding to bloody mud tens of millions of soldiers on the shoulders of a malnourished minority toiling under the same system that barely fed their ancestors 2,000 years ago. It has been argued that the end of American slavery was more beneficial to the northern states than to the European nations. And during the course of that same generation that saw the growth of America into a world class power, the vast majority of former black slaves were reduced to serf status under Jim Crow, even as new waves of wage slaves were brought into the nation as cheap labor so that descendents of former white slaves could be lead to war around the globe by the descendents of former slave owners and aristocrats.
So, essentially America ‘caught up’ with Europe by abolishing chattel slavery, a type of chattel slavery which was among the cruelest of its kind because it used religion—specifically protestant interpretations of the Old Testament—as a means of justification. As with all chattel systems the legacy of the brutal means necessary to its operation has rippled down through the generations, enabling and excusing senseless violence and wealth redistribution to this very day.
Further Reading
Check out The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas, The World of Odysseus by M. I. Finley, Hernando de Soto, A Savage Quest in The Americas by David Ewing Duncan, The Truth About Slavery by Stephan Molyneux [he gets the economics, but not the horror, of slavery], and the biography tag on this site.
Also Leah, might I recommend for your students: Gay Rapists of the Caribbean, and Why Grownups Suck, available on the blog page at!
-Regal M-116-S
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